Looking for a cake with “Wow”

My cousin throws an annual party that has evolved from a “Death by Chocolate” theme to encompass all food, but the heart of the party is still chocolate.  I have enjoyed the competition, but the success that I have in the past with winning the “bake-off” engenders a problem.  I can’t repeat myself by baking the same thing!

Past winners that I’ve used include the Inside Out German Chocolate cake (from the Bridge Street Bakery of Waitsfield, VT written up by Gourmet March 2000), Maida Heatter’s fabulous “Queen Mother Chocolate Flourless Cake,” the Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake” from season 10 of America’s Test Kitchen, and the Pine Cone Chocolate cake from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s “A Passion for Chocolate.”

There is a common theme here—all these cakes are all desserts that taste absolutely great, look wonderful, but are very laborious and time consuming to make.  I’m very proud of the results, but it raises the bar as to what to make next!  I can work with fondant, and I can decorate with all kinds of tips with a pastry bag, but that does not mean the results are ethereal.  After all, I’m not trying to make a wedding cake (which often don’t taste great anyway, no matter how impressive they look).  So I am always on the lookout for recipes that have that “show-stopper” element.  The result must have eye appeal, and taste extraordinarily good.  A lack of complexity is not a criterion, nor is the time required.  Great things often require some effort!

I just made what I thought was one of the best show-stoppers yet, a recipe from Season 14 of America’s Test Kitchen that they called Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise.  Dacquoise cakes have their difficulties.  The first one I ever made was a recipe from Jacques Pepin with 2 discs of meringue and a pastry cream and whipped cream filling (a wonderful cake by the way).  Last year, I made the torte au chocolat cake, and I have posted it below.  However, this chocolate-espresso cake  from ATK  is truly stellar.   I made some modifications that relate to the pastry cream and ganache quantities that remove some problems from the recipe:

Dacquoise Aux Chocolat

Modified from Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise from ATK

Author Notes
The components in this recipe can easily be prepared in advance. Use a rimless baking sheet or an overturned rimmed baking sheet to bake the meringue. Instant coffee may be substituted for the espresso powder. To skin the hazelnuts, simply place the warm toasted nuts in a clean dish towel and rub gently. We recommend Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar with 60% cacao for this recipe.

Source: America’s Test Kitchen Season 14: A Fancy Finale

We made this elaborate and impressive-looking dessert more approachable by reworking the meringue and buttercream, making them simpler and more foolproof. We swapped the traditional individually piped layers of meringue for a single sheet that was trimmed into layers after baking, and we shortened the usual 4-plus hours of oven time by increasing the oven temperature. While many recipes call for a Swiss or French buttercream made with a hot sugar syrup, we opted for a German buttercream. With equal parts pastry cream and butter, this option required no hot syrup and it enabled us to use up the egg yolks left over from the meringue.

This multilayered showpiece of meringue and buttercream coated in ganache might just be the best dessert you’ll ever make—plus you can prepare it the day before.

SDR notes:  the amount of buttercream in the original recipe needed to be increased by at least 50% in order to have enough to put ½ cup between each layer and on the top, and still have enough to skim coat the sides of the cake.  Therefore, I’ve adjusted the amounts.  I doubled the amount of ganache, as I knew the recipe would be too scant, and this is also changed in the recipe below.  The other observation is that it is very difficult to spread the meringue evenly to allow it to end up with perfectly even thickness.  It would be worth the effort to pipe the meringue with a pastry bag and a large tip, then smooth with an offset spatula.  The meringue quantity is sufficient as per the original recipe.

3/4 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 Tbs cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup sugar (7 ounces)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/8 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
2 tsp cornstarch
3/8 tsp salt
3 Tbs amaretto or water
1 tsp instant espresso powder
24 Tbs unsalted butter (3 sticks), softened
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tsp corn syrup

12 whole hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

1 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted

1. FOR THE MERINGUE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Using ruler and pencil, draw 13 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle on piece of parchment paper. Grease baking sheet and place parchment on it, ink side down.

2. Process almonds, hazelnuts, cornstarch, and salt in food processor until nuts are finely ground, 15 to 20 seconds. Add 1/2 cup sugar and pulse to combine, 1 to 2 pulses.

3. Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip whites to soft, billowy mounds, about 1 minute. With mixer running at medium-high speed, slowly add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to whip until glossy, stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 2 batches. With offset spatula, spread meringue evenly into 13 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle on parchment, using lines on parchment as guide. Or as I suggest, pipe the meringue with a pastry bag and smooth to even with an offset spatula.  Using spray bottle, evenly mist surface of meringue with water until glistening (this will prevent cracking during baking).  Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off oven and allow meringue to cool in oven for 1 1/2 hours. (Do not open oven during baking and cooling.) Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes. (Cooled meringue can be kept at room temperature, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.)

4. FOR THE BUTTERCREAM: Heat milk in small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in bowl until smooth. Remove milk from heat and, whisking constantly, add half of milk to yolk mixture to temper. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to remaining milk in saucepan. Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is bubbling and thickens to consistency of warm pudding, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer pastry cream to bowl. Cover and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Before using, warm gently to room temperature in microwave at 50 percent power, stirring every 10 seconds.

5. Stir together amaretto and espresso powder; set aside. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter at medium speed until smooth and light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add pastry cream in 3 batches, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Add amaretto mixture and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes longer, scraping down bowl thoroughly halfway through mixing.

6. FOR THE GANACHE: Place chocolate in heatproof bowl. Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Pour cream mixture over chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Stir mixture until smooth. Set aside to cool until chocolate mounds slightly when dripped from spoon, about 5 minutes.

7. Carefully invert meringue and peel off parchment. Reinvert meringue and place on cutting board. Using serrated knife and gentle, repeated scoring motion, trim edges of meringue to form 12 by 10-inch rectangle. Do not press down with the knife blade, but let the serrations and repeated strokes score deeper until the cut is complete.  Discard trimmings. With long side of rectangle parallel to counter, use ruler to mark both long edges of meringue at 3-inch intervals. Using serrated knife, score surface of meringue by drawing knife toward you from mark on top edge to corresponding mark on bottom edge. Repeat scoring until meringue is fully cut through. Repeat until you have four 10 by 3-inch equal rectangles. (If any meringues break during cutting, use them as middle layers.)  Be very careful in handling the meringue rectangles, as they can easily fracture.

8. Place 3 rectangles on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Using offset spatula, spread 1/4 cup ganache evenly over surface of each meringue. Refrigerate until ganache is firm, about 15 minutes. Set aside remaining ganache.

9. Using offset spatula, spread top of remaining rectangle with 1/2 cup buttercream; place on wire rack with ganache-coated meringues. Invert 1 ganache-coated meringue, place on top of buttercream, and press gently to level. Repeat, spreading meringue with 1/2 cup buttercream and topping with inverted ganache-coated meringue. Spread top with buttercream. Invert final ganache-coated strip on top of cake. Use 1 hand to steady top of cake and spread half of remaining buttercream to lightly coat sides of cake, then use remaining buttercream to coat top of cake. Smooth until cake resembles box. Refrigerate until buttercream is firm, about 2 hours. (Once buttercream is firm, assembled cake may be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

10. Warm remaining ganache in heatproof bowl set over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until mixture is very fluid but not hot. Keeping assembled cake on wire rack, pour ganache over top of cake. Using offset spatula, spread ganache in thin, even layer over top of cake, letting excess flow down sides. Spread ganache over sides in thin layer (top must be completely covered, but some small gaps on sides are OK).

11. Garnish top of cake with hazelnuts in a line down the long axis of the center of the cake.  This decoration also acts as a cutting guide for slicing the cake.  Lift the cake with a spatula, and with one hand holding the bottom of cake, gently press the toasted almonds onto the 4 sides with other hand. Chill on wire rack, uncovered, for at least 3 hours or up to 12 hours. Transfer to platter. Do not let the cake warm prior to serving.  Cut into slices with a sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and wiped dry, then slice.  Reheated and dry the knife before the next slice.  Serve.

Yes, this cake is very time consuming, but the results are worth the effort.

A similar cake of even more complexity was featured on one of Ina Garten’s FoodTV shows, and Paul Lemieux, the pastry chef at Auberge de Soleil in Napa, purported to give Ina the whole technique for making his signature dessert.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to duplicate his results in a home kitchen.  I found that plastic wrap (saran wrap or equivalent) will melt when trying to make the chocolate decadence the way it is described, and the hazelnut meringues did not come out with the cooking times and temperature given (even though I used a convection oven).  This recipe requires a lot of special equipment (6 inch ring molds, 6 inch cake pan, etc), plus glucose (available from Wilton).  This cake is spectacular in appearance and taste, but I think I like the ATK version better, and it is slightly less work.

Torte au Chocolat

  • Difficulty: very hard
  • Print

Author: Paul Lemieux, Executive Pastry Chef, Auberge de Soleil, Napa Valley, CA
Source: http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/french-pastry-chocolate-torte/116389.html

There is a problem with this recipe’s cooking temperatures.  The dacquoise must cook at a different temperature, maybe even as high as 350°F, not 200°F, and for a different time. I have yet to refine this.  I bought a 6 inch cake pan for the chocolate decadence, and I need to work out the cooking time for the cake in this pan.  Cooking the decadence in non food service plastic is a disaster.

Recipe Type: Cakes, Pastries, and Desserts, chocolate, Dessert

Hazelnut Dacquoise
6 large egg whites
4 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces confectioner’s sugar
2 ounces toasted hazelnut meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
cocoa powder, for dusting of meringues
Chocolate ganache
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
8 ounces Bittersweet chocolate
1 to taste glucose
1 to taste salt
Hazelnut purée
6 ounces hazelnuts, roasted in 350° oven for 8 min to remove skins
1 to taste confectioner’s sugar
Chocolate Decadence
10 ounces Bittersweet chocolate
10  ounces unsalted butter, melted
12 ounces sugar
7 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
For assembly
cocoa powder
candied hazelnuts
kitchen torch

1. Take 6 egg whites and beat until increased in volume by 3/4.  Then slowly add 4 ounces of sugar on low speed until the meringue is shiny and at medium peaks.  Take the bowl off the mixer, and fold in the powdered sugar, 2 ounces at a time.  Create hazelnut meal by toasting hazelnuts, removing the skins, and grinding in a food processor to create a fine meal.  Use 2 ounces of this meal and fold it into the meringue, then fold 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Create a template of a 6 inch circle, and, using a silpat on a half sheet pan, spread the meringue in a thin layer to fill the circle, smoothing with an offset spatula.  Repeat for a total of 4 discs,  Bake in a convection oven at 200° F for 25 minutes to dry the dacquoise (see notes above about temp and timing).  Dust finished meringues with white cocoa powder to help them remain crisp.

2. For the ganache:  Heat the cream to near boiling.  Put the chocolate with a little glucose and salt in a mixing bowl, and pour the hot cream over it.  Let sit for 1 minute, then stir to emulsify.  Set aside for use.

3. For the hazelnut purée:  Toast hazelnuts and rub the skins off.  Put in a food processor and add some confectioner’s sugar to make a thin paste.  Alternative:   Coarsely chop one pound roasted hazelnuts. In a food processor or blender, finely grind about 1/3 of the nuts at a time, until mealy.  Add egg whites from 3 large eggs, 2 cups powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons hazelnut liqueur.  Blend until paste forms. Wrap and store in a covered container, up to 2 weeks.  Makes 2-3 cups.  Also this hazelnut purée is known as “Gianduja”, and this is a sweet chocolate containing about 30% hazelnut paste, and is found in this country as Nutella (originally called “Pasta Gianduja.”  However, the hazelnut purée used here is composed of sweetened hazelnuts in a relatively thin paste.

4. For the chocolate decadence:  Melt 10 ounces of unsalted butter, and pour it over 10 ounces of bittersweet chocolate.  Whisk it together, then add 12 ounces of sugar, then add 7 large eggs and whisk it thoroughly, then add 1 teaspoon of salt.  Prepare a 6 inch ring mold with plastic wrap to line the interior, lightly spray the interior with canola oil, tie the plastic wrap on the exterior of the ring, and pour 9 ounces of the mixture into the mold.  The recipe makes 3 of these 9 ounce rounds.  Put the rings on a half sheet pan and fill the pan half way up with hot water.  Bake in a 325°F convection oven for 25 minutes.  See notes above, as I bought a 6 inch cake pan for this step.

5. Assembly:  using a 6 inch by 3 inch ring mold, put a meringue layer down and spread 1½  to 2 tablespoons of the ganache in a thin layer with an offset spatula.  Place another meringue disc on top of the ganache, and spread a thin layer of the hazelnut purée on top using an offset spatula.  Put a chocolate decadence cake in as the next layer, and spread a layer of hazelnut purée on the top of the decadence.  Then another dacquoise layer goes on, another layer of ganache, then the final dacquoise.  Warm ganache is poured over the top of the last dacquoise and fills the space in the periphery of the rounds.  Dust the top with cocoa powder.  Chill the cake.

6. To finish, use a blowtorch to heat the edge of the ring to melt the edge of the cake to allow easy removal of the ring.  Dust the edge of the cake with candied hazelnut, a mixture of ground hazelnuts and sugar.  Chill again before serving.

7. At the restaurant, an 11th layer is added with the addition of a 2 inch round of chocolate with the symbol of the Auberge de Soleil embossed in eatable gold leaf (secured to the top layer with a drop of chocolate ganache).  To me, this is a little bit of overkill!

Servings: 12

The wow factor is great for this cake, and the taste is wonderful.  However, it is a lot of work!


About trustforce

A well trained amateur chef, I have learned by taking some master classes and doing a lot of reading and experimentation. I cook and enjoy many different cuisines. The fun is getting it right, with great taste and presentation. The smells and appearance add to the pleasure of eating well. I can enjoy a great Chicago style hot dog or an Italian beef sandwich, or have equal pleasure from haut cuisine. All my recipe postings are extensively tested by me unless I state otherwise. I will sometimes post a recipe that sounds like it should be good before I actually make it myself, but I will always come back and revise the "untested" recipe after I've made it, with valid comments to keep old posts accurate and current. If I am not the originator of a recipe I will always correctly attribute the source author, even if I have modified the recipe. I will occasionally post reviews of local restaurants on the site. The big problem that I have with eating out is that I know too much about restaurants and I find it hard to ignore or forgive sloppy technique or bad ingredients. I pull no punches in my restaurant reviews!
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